The wheels in the heads of Montgomery County officials are going round and round as they try to find a place to park about 400 Montgomery County Public School buses.
The County Council and Montgomery County Board of Education will receive an update next week on the progress their staff has made on finding a spot for the buses, currently parked in Montgomery County Public Schools’ Shady Grove Bus Depot, near the Shady Grove metro in Derwood.
The depot is on the Montgomery County Service Park, which is set to be redeveloped into a new community with more than 175,000 square feet of apartments, shops or office space, a public library, local park and elementary school.
The buses need to be moved before new development moves in, and although the timeline for that is unknown, the school system needs to vacate the property by the beginning of 2015, said James Song, the system’s director of facilities management.
The default option — parking the buses in school parking lots — is not one Montgomery County Board of Education members want to accept. They say it will bring issues with parking, vandalism and more.
“The impact on our high school communities will be dramatic,” board member Patricia O’Neill (Dist. 13) of Bethesda said.
Although the development plan has been in the works since the County Executive and County Council established the 2006 Shady Grove Sector Plan, the issue was brought back up this summer. In September, the county’s Planning Board approved a preliminary plan for the transformation of the park, which also houses the county’s Equipment Mainenance Operations Center, portions of its park and planning and liquor control departments and the school system’s food services plant.
The September decision approved a developer for the West side of the park, where the operations center and food services plan are located but not for the East side of the park, where the bus depot is located, said N’kosi Yearwood, a senior planner for the county.
Because a developer has not yet been assigned to the East side, the need to move the bus depot is not urgent, Yearwood said; if a developer comes around, they would need to revise the preliminary plan or have a site plan approved, he said.
There are sites identified for most of the other buildings on the site to move to except the school bus depot, Song said.
A work group tasked with helping solve the problem will present options to the County Council Feb. 11 and to the school board Feb. 12.
Before this issue came up, the school system already was dealing with overcrowding at its depots.
There are 483 bus spaces at the system’s five bus depots, yet there are 1,272 school buses. That means that buses are double-parked, are parked on aisles and are taking up other spaces meant for bus drivers or others, Song said.
“We are at 101 to 225 percent over-utilization,” Song said.
The buses at the Shady Grove depot serves six upcounty high schools, the elementary and middle schools that feed into those schools and magnet and special education programs.
School board members are worried county officials don’t understand the scope of the problem, and see parking the buses at schools as an option.
The potential problems with that option are serious, said O’Neill. She sees the buses becoming a “magnet for mischief.”
Bus doors cannot be locked at night under state law, and buses are currently only kept in secured areas, Song said.
The work group is tasked with having a final recommendation by the time the next Capital Improvements Program is finalized in the fall.